Burt accused of losing touch with PLP ideals
The Progressive Labour Party faced discord among its own supporters over fears that Bermudian families are being left out in the cold, political sources claimed.
David Burt, the Premier, and Curtis Dickinson, the Minister of Finance, were thought to have a Budget-juggling act to perform as they seek ways to boost government revenues and manage debt without alienating voters.
Some grassroots members feared the party was heading off course and felt uneasy about policy proposals they believed are more aligned with the One Bermuda Alliance.
The concerns came alongside suggestions of cracks between younger politicians in the Cabinet and those with longer tenures in Parliament.
A PLP spokeswoman insisted yesterday the party’s policies put development and investment in Bermudians at the centre of its plans to bring long-term benefits to the island. It was thought the 2019-20 Budget, to be delivered by Mr Dickinson tomorrow, sparked some unrest as the island continues to grapple with deficits and a high level of government debt, which stands at $2.46 billion.
An earlier report that outlined options under consideration maintained it was “critical” that money was spent on creating a more diverse economy, although the ministry claimed stability will always come first. A well-placed source told The Royal Gazette: “I started hearing stuff once discussions around the Budget came; that’s what I’ve been told was the single-most dividing issue.”
It was understood some members felt “the party is being taken in a different direction, away from PLP values”.
The source explained: “Take once-a-week trash collection — the United Bermuda Party instituted this and the PLP put restoration of twice-a-week in its 1998 platform and Throne Speech, so it’s a thing.
“When the OBA stated they would be governing under austerity and they maintain that, it’s difficult for people then to accept it when you have not claimed it’s going to be austerity and they’re going to tighten belts to go to once a week.”
Lieutenant-Colonel David Burch, the Minister of Public Works, announced weekly garbage collection was to become permanent earlier this month and said high overtime costs were among the reasons for cutting pickups from twice a week.
However, the source added: “The answer of overtime doesn’t answer the problem of rats ... that would not be a labour government answer.”
Colonel Burch repeated yesterday that most people had adjusted to the new schedule and a 50 per cent saving in overtime costs was “considered a positive and a benefit”.
He added: “More importantly, this is a benefit to the taxpayer.
“Even though we have five new trucks, the fact is that these added resources do not provide us with enough vehicles and equipment to return to twice-a-week trash collection.”
Colonel Burch also said 300 “oversized bins” that can take seven days’ worth of garbage will be introduced at appropriate sites throughout the island.
The source cited the introduction of a sugar tax, which increased rates on items such as fizzy drinks and sweets from last October, hiking up some prices, and said: “It’s not like the taxes are funding new services.”
A long-serving PLP member echoed the sentiments and highlighted a proposal in the finance ministry’s Pre-Budget Report to implement a tax on rented homes.
Mr Dickinson later announced, after complaints that landlords had tried to use the suggested levy as an excuse to raise rents, this had been removed from consideration and he had other revenue-raising plans.
The PLP member, who asked not to be named, said: “They are hurting the same people that vote for them: the people who are struggling to keep their heads above water.
“To even suggest that proposal shows how out of touch they are with their base. They are getting farther away from their voting base.”
When asked to reflect on whether the PLP had maintained its true values, the party member added: “We have seen that issue growing over the years. The PLP was a labour party for the people and its goal was to push for independence. They have gone completely away from that.
“I wonder what the Freddie Wades and Lois Browne-Evanses would think of the alpha boys. A lot of PLP supporters see them as smooth-looking, sharp talkers, but they have produced absolutely nothing.”
Other sources suggested there was a disconnect between older, more experienced politicians and younger members touting the appeal of a burgeoning fintech industry.
It was claimed the younger cohort could be broken down further into a group referred to as “the Alphas”, which included people such as Mr Burt and Wayne Caines, the national security minister. Several members of the party’s parliamentary group are members of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity.
A source added: “Then there are the very real old-school who just believe that the party is moving away from its roots.”
He said some experienced supporters felt PLP ideas had become “not very far Left, if at all” of the OBA’s approach.
A PLP spokeswoman said yesterday the party had “made great strides in creating opportunities and implementing policies to create a fairer and better Bermuda for Bermudians”.
She said these included increased access to scholarships, boosting pensions, a pay rise for government workers, and reforming procurement policy to “level the playing field” for black businesses.
The spokeswoman said: “We are firmly committed to and in the process of education reform, tax reform, diversification of our economy, and creating jobs.
“While many of our platform promises have been kept, we recognise that, so long as one Bermudian who wants to work is unable to find work, as long as one Bermudian can’t afford to keep their lights on and one Bermudian is forced to look elsewhere for jobs and opportunities, that our work at building a better, fairer Bermuda remains unfinished.”
She added: “We are a different government implementing a different agenda for the betterment of all Bermudians.”
A statement from the Epsilon Theta Lambda Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc pointed out that the group had “provided the community of Bermuda with outstanding service and leadership for nearly 70 years”.
It said, from the former United Bermuda Party premier E.T. Richards to Mr Burt of the PLP: “We pride ourselves on being non-partisan servants of the community utilising our skill sets to empower and positively influence the lives of countless individuals in Bermuda.
“We continue to shape the lives of young men in Bermuda through the spectrum of programmes that we offer, which include partner programmes with Big Brothers Big Sisters, Project Alpha, Math Attack, High School Leadership Breakfast, Alpha Beautillion Scholarship and Mentorship Programme, and Community Symposium.
“The Epsilon Theta Lambda Chapter is committed to providing service and advocacy for our community.”
• Update: This article has been updated to include a statement from the Epsilon Theta Lambda Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc.
• To read the Progressive Labour Party’s response in full, click on the PDF under “Related Media”